(This was originally posted in Economic Times by Manu Pubby)
The upcoming India-China border talks are likely to lead to a resolution of the last major friction point in eastern Ladakh. The discussions may also lead to a larger border mechanism as incidents are flaring up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). If the Hot Springs faceoff is resolved, as preliminary discussions indicate, India and China could move to work on a new border agreement covering the entire LAC, where incidents of transgressions and infrastructure damage by PLA troops are on the rise.
The need for a new deal was discussed at a meeting of the apex China Study Group last week, with the understanding that talks can only progress once the Ladakh situation – triggered by a massive PLA deployment – finds closure. The stakes are high, given increased faceoffs between troops, especially in the middle sector – Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand facing Tibet – that has largely been peaceful over the last several decades. The other two sectors – northern comprising Ladakh and eastern comprising Sikkim and Arunachal – have also seen an increased Chinese build-up.
Officials said more than two dozen incidents of transgression have taken place in the middle sector this year and there has been a marked change in the pattern and violation of standing operating procedures, with a larger number of PLA troops intruding into disputed areas and damaging infrastructure. One reason, officials say, is the increased Indian access to the middle sector after the Galwan incident last year. The incident at Barahoti in Uttarakhand in late August took place after the Indian side stepped up patrolling and was constructing pedestrian bridges for faster access towards the Tun Jun La pass.
In a departure from norms, the PLA transgressed with over 100 soldiers – against the usual strength of less than 35 – and targeted a partially constructed bridge. Officials say such incidents are expected to rise as India has been increasing its access and patrolling posture along the border. An officer with considerable experience on India-China border situation said given the large unmarked and unfenced border with China, any side which moves first can easily occupy land and set up camps. “The only thing that has to change from either side is intent. Occupying an area that hasn’t seen friction is a relatively easy task with a quick tactical operation, but holding onto it is the challenge,” he said.